Iowan offers free BBQ meals to help with Hurricane Ian recovery

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Fort Myers, Florida – Willie Ray Fairley drives towards destruction, smoking in tow.

The Cedar Rapids restaurateur has been honored for his work bringing hot meals to those in need after natural disasters in recent years, skills he honed after his hometown was hit by a devastating derecho.

In a Big Lots parking lot in Fort Myers on Sunday, he never stopped moving. Unloading cases of water, seasoning ribs on one of three smokers, leading volunteers, he and his team of seven volunteers were offering what they could in the aftermath of September’s events. Hurricane Ian.

After:Iowa businesses send aid to Hurricane Ian victims in Southwest Florida

“The secret is passion,” he said. “It’s about seeing the smiles and the people knowing someone is there to help. That’s what it is.”

By noon on their first day cooking in southwest Florida, Fairley said they had already served more than 500 meals. His team was parked next to a Cajun Navy ground support supply point in the big box store parking lot. A line of cars passed slowly as volunteers loaded them with crates of water.

Lee County, home to Fort Myers, still had a boil water advisory in effect Sunday. At the last Willie Ray’s Q Shack pop-up, volunteers happily washed down trays using gallons of water they had carried.

Fairley and her team were a blessing, said Marian Alfonso as they lined up for a burger, baked beans and green beans.

Volunteers Zenaida Robles, left, and Michael Castro help serve meals for Willie Ray's Q Shack in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Sunday, October 9, 2022. Willie Ray Fairley set up three smokers and prepared meals to feed the people affected by Hurricane Ian.

She lives across the street and said she still has no power, more than 10 days after the storm as recovery efforts continue.

Right behind her, Carolina Corona was picking up dinner for her children.

“That’s great,” she said emphatically. “We just thank the Lord.”

Fairley and his Iowa volunteers hope to serve through Thursday, “Trucker” logistician Trevor Nicholson said. He sourced it locally, but said he brought frozen pork with him, which he would enter if he needed it.

By then, they’ll be in the parking lot.

“Come see us,” Nicholson said.

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